Department History

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Old FirehouseThe first fire committee was appointed by the city council on October 9, 1893. Benjamin Manning was appointed chief. The first citizens' meeting concerning fire protection was held in June 1894 and as a result, the city council authorized the purchase of 20 fire extinguishers that were distributed throughout the business community. However, actual fire protection still consisted of volunteers who used the bucket brigade approach.

Feeling the need for a more organized effort, the council established the boundaries for the first fire district in June 1900 and named W.H. Carmody as the chief. In October of that same year, a one-story building was built in the downtown business district to house the first hose and hose cart that was also purchased.

As the population increased, the city answered the need for added fire protection with a fire truck, axes, ladders and protective gear for the volunteers. Lloyd "Shorty" Nelson was appointed fire chief in 1948 and eventually a new City Hall was built in 1954 that served as the fire department's second location, thus closing the original station. In 1972 a second fire station was opened and now serves as the administration headquarters for the fire department.

 West Des Moines' population started to explode in the mid 1970's leading to the first ever full-time position with the department. In 1973, George Oster was hired full time as the Chief Department Administrator for both the Fire and Building Departments.  After Chief Oster left to manage the Fire Service Institute in Ames in 1977, the City hired Randy Bracken as their full-time fire chief in 1978. This growth continued at a rapid pace well into the mid 1980's and volunteers became harder to find for daytime calls, which led to the city hiring its first full-time firefighters in October of 1988. In March of 2000, Randy Bracken retired as fire chief of the department.

Early fire truckIn April 2000, Don Cox was appointed Fire Chief. Chief Cox initially served as a volunteer firefighter for the city of West Des Moines in 1972.

In March 2002, the department opened Station 18, located at 5025 Grand Avenue, and the new home of the Department Memorial and Museum.

On July 8th, 2002 the department, in conjunction with EMS, began staffing all four fire/EMS stations with an initial responding crew of either firefighters or paramedics, 24 hours a day - 7 days a week. 

In 2007, the department opened Station 19, located at 8050 Mills Civic Pkwy. This station was staffed by EMS personnel only and later added 6 full-time firefighters to staff Station 19 as of November 2014.

As of November 2014, there are 51 career firefighters (17 per day) teamed with 30 paid-on-call firefighters and an administrative staff of 5 personnel.  The department still relies heavily on a paid-on-call workforce in conjunction with career firefighters.

In January 2015, Chief Don Cox retired from the fire department after serving almost 15 years as Chief.  Deputy Chief Matt Sonnenburg was appointed Interim Fire Chief until the hiring of a new permanent Fire Chief.

July 27, 2015 was the swearing in of our new Fire Chief.  Chief Craig Leu has 24 years of experience in fire service, including 11 years in management with the Sedgwick County Fire District #1 in Park City, Kansas.

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